Monday, January 19, 2009

Airport Adventures

To begin, I have to firmly state that flying beats traveling for days in a covered wagon, hands down. No comparison. And for that blessing, I am exceedingly grateful. Flying makes it possible to travel anywhere in the world in a fraction of the time it once involved. Way cool. I'm even looking forward to my next chance to fly somewhere.

That said, I will now share the wonderment of traveling as a diabetic. Before all of the terrorist activity, it really wasn't a problem. I kept supplies in my trusty carry-on bag that are crucial to the survival of a diabetic: insulin, syringes, insulin pump supplies, glucose tablets, chocolate . . . just checking to see if you're actually reading this list, but I digress. ;)

I flew to places like San Diego, St. Louis, and so forth without any problem. In fact, when we were preparing to fly to St. Louis, my husband just knew I would be holding everyone up as we passed through what was then thought of as "relaxed security." Since we were traveling with about four other couples to St. Louis, we rode down with them to the Salt Lake Airport. During a goodly portion of that journey, my husband apologized repeatedly for the extra time I would be costing everyone, because of my insulin pump and supplies.
"She even brought a note from her doctor explaining about everything she has to take with her, but I know they'll do a strip-search. Hopefully it won't make us late for our flight," he said to anyone who would listen.

As it turns out, fate has a sense of humor. I wasn't the one who was strip-searched that day, it was my husband. =D His metallic belt buckle and steel-toed boots set off the alarms. I'll have to admit I laughed with everyone else as my husband had to take off his belt, shoes, and then hold up his pants with his hands as a special metal-seeking wand was passed by all of his body parts. We all enjoyed a good laugh over that. ;) Except for my husband who was mortified. I shouldn't have laughed. As I often told my children during their formative years: "That which we mock, we become."

A few years later, I was to fly out of the Salt Lake City Airport alone, to meet my husband in New Orleans. I was traveling 2 days behind my husband, who had been sent to New Orleans on a business trip. It was my first time of traveling alone and I'll admit, I was a tiny bit nervous. Okay, a lot nervous. As I shared in a recent blog, it has taken me a long time to get over my fear of flying. I still have to pretend I'm on a noisy bus during takeoff. Once I'm up in the air, I'm fine, unless we run into lots of turbulence, which isn't my friend, but I digress again.

My sister-in-law drove me to the airport, dropping me off at the appropriate door. Then I was on my own. Mustering my courage, I walked inside. I checked in my suitcase without a hitch. Then I made my way to the beefed up security line. I had once again brought along a note from my diabetic specialist that explained everything they would find inside my carry-on bag: insulin, syringes, insulin pump supplies, glucose tablets, etc. But there had been a lot of changes with regard to security since the last time I had flown somewhere, compliments of recent terrorist activity.

In my defense, I had dutifully read through the airport guidelines before embarking on this journey. In my carry-on was a plastic bag with all of the right-sized items like mini-me shampoo, deodorant, hairspray, etc. that the nice security people could plainly see. I was not aware that items like insulin also had to be taken out of their boxes and placed inside a plastic bag. But as I stood in line, I saw a huge sign that stated: "All medicines must be encased inside a plastic bag, clearly labeled." Now was a fine time to tell me that!

I shifted nervously from foot to foot, trying to think of what to do. I had come early, so I figured I would have plenty of time to pass through security before my flight, but I didn't have enough time to catch a taxi, ride to a store, find a box of plastic bags, purchase this item, place my insulin inside one of the bags and clearly mark what they were, and then return to the airport. I panicked. Then I remembered the note from my diabetic specialist. All would be well. I would just show the nice security people my note and they would smile understandingly and send me on my way. NOT!!!

Since we all had to pass by this first security stop, I soon found myself at the front of the table, facing two surly looking security guards who possessed no sense of humor. I showed them the note from my doctor. It was even written on an official piece of paper often used to write prescriptions. My prescription for this flight said: "Cheri Crane is a Type 1 diabetic and an insulin pump patient. As such, she must always keep with her the following items for her survival." Then it listed everything I've already shared plus a phone number to reach my doctor if there were any questions.

The nice security guards didn't care. They wanted to know if my insulin was encased inside a plastic bag. When I sadly shook my head, they made me dig out the insulin which was naturally buried in the depths of my bag. I had to pull everything out for their perusal. Meanwhile, impatient passengers who didn't have anything like that inside their carry-on bags, went on around me, and I lost my place in line.
When I finally found the insulin, I pulled out the two boxes I was bringing with me and we had to take them out of their packaging that was clearly marked with my prescription information. Then the guards scrutinized each bottle as if it was nitroglycerin before grumpily placing the insulin inside a plastic bag they labeled: Appears to be insulin. Rolling my eyes, I accepted the bag of insulin and replaced everything inside my carry-on bag. Then I continued onto the second security pit-stop, after waiting in a huge line for what seemed like forever.

When it was finally my turn to pass through the security gate, I took off my shoes and set them inside the plastic tub. Then I removed my watch, and set my purse and carry-on bag inside the tub and approached the next set of security people. I began by handing the nice security guard the note from my doctor.

"Why are you showing me this?" the man asked.

"Because I'm a diabetic and I'm wearing an insulin pump," I explained. I unclipped the pump from the side of my jeans to show the nice man. A friend of mine, also an insulin pump patient, had told me that while flying somewhere, she had kept her pump clipped to her sock. When she bent down during the flight to remove it to punch in the needed insulin for the tasty airline meal, a fellow passenger told a flight attendant that she was wearing a bomb. I was hoping to avoid the adventure she had endured. So I was being open and honest about my pump.

"A diabetic, huh," he replied, handing me back my note. "Try clipping the pump to the front of your pants and you might make it through the gate."

I wondered at this, but I obediently clipped the pump to the front of my pants. Then I bravely walked through and a noisy alarm went off.

"Ma'am, you'll have to enter the security booth," I was then told by this same man who knew why the alarm had sounded.

I looked at him and said, "But you know it's my pump. I showed you . . ."

"Ma'am, enter the security booth, now," I was told.

Sighing loudly, I stepped off to the side, entering what looked like a phone booth gone awry. Then I waited while numerous people went by and stared, pointing at my evilness. I felt like saying, "Yes, no doubt I'm a dangerous terrorist intent on ruining your day." Figuring I was in enough trouble, I refrained.

Finally a sweet young thing passing as a security guard, showed up with one of those wand devices. "I need to see why you set off the alarm," she explained. Once again, I tried to show the nice note my doctor had written for me, and once again, it was ignored. The guard ran the wand over my body and it went off three times: once for the metal medical alert necklace I forgot to remove, once for the metal button of my jeans, and once for my insulin pump.

I showed her the necklace and it proved to be the culprit for the squawk that had sounded near my neck. The metal button on my jeans was quickly ascertained to not be a public hazard. Then it was time to explain about my insulin pump . . . again.

"Let's see the pump," the guard said, enthused. If I didn't know better, I would have thought that she was enjoying my moment of humiliation.
Unclipping the pump from where the other guard had instructed me to wear it, I played show and tell for the next ten minutes, explaining the fine art of being a diabetic pump patient. I had to show her how the insulin was stored inside a syringe located in the back of the pump, and how the tubing was attached to a small IV site located in my stomach. Luckily I hadn't opted to change sites utilizing a leg, or I would've had to strip down even further in public. As it was, I'd had to show off my belly button.

Deciding I was harmless, she allowed me to step out of the security booth and I collected my treasures from the plastic tub that had been held for me at the security table. By the time I had redressed and left the security realm, I had all of fifteen minutes before my flight would leave. It was barely enough time to use the facilities, purchase a couple of bottles of Gatorade for the flight, and board the plane. Once seated, I decided to spit out the gum I had been chewing during this adventure. I used the note from my doctor to dispose of it. ;)

I did arrive safely in New Orleans. And the nice security people at the Louis Armstrong Airport were much better sports about me being a diabetic. All I had to say at this airport was, "I'm a Type 1 diabetic," show them the clearly marked plastic bag that contained my insulin, and show them my insulin pump, and they were cool with it. One guard said, "My cousin is a diabetic," and he waved me through. I suspect Someone knew I had had my fill of being dissected and probed that day.

I will say this, airport security is tight these days, and with just cause. Remain calm if you're ever inspected while passing through the security checkpoints. And bring along extra plastic bags just in case. ;)

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Jennie said...

Cheri, I thought I warned you that notes from your doctor are of no use whatsoever. We play this silly game every time we fly because of my husband's artificial knee. I keep reminding myself that at least all these precautions have kept a second 9-11from occuring over the past seven years.

Cindy Beck said...

Cheri: Yup, that's how it is all right. We've been stopped at security for all number of benign things. It's very frustrating. But, I agree with Jennie, it's probably kept us from a repeat performance of 9/11.

Although ... I believe there must be a better way to do security than to stop every gray-haired grandma that comes through.

Candace E. Salima said...

You are my hero, Cheri. I swear, the SLC airport has the dumbest security guards. I can't believe what you had to go through! Glad you retained your sense of humor, oh and common sense. Cuz heaven knows, you look dangerous! Yes, I'm grinning.

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Hi Cheri - This is my first time on your blog. I loved your story about airport security. It's just as much pain to travel with a baby. Every car seat, stroller, and ounce of formula is taken out/apart and dissected. It's such a wonderful experience - especially when you're traveling alone with three children between the ages of 1 and 7! It makes me re-think vacation plans every year. And sometimes, I just decide to bite the bullet and drive instead of dealing with the craziness at the airport.

Cheri J. Crane said...

I agree with all of you, what a great time it is, surviving airport security. =D But as most of you pointed out, the changes in security have made us safer . . . right? Not just humiliated. ;)And Danyelle, I cringe to think of taking children through that process.